The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

November 27, 2016

November 27, 1710

Robert Lowth,(November 27, 1710 to November 3, 1787) was an 18th century bishop of London.This position of leadership came with expectations of intellectual leadership and Lowth admirably fulfilled this role also. He made a new translation of the book of Isaiah. Below we compare Lowth's rendering of part of Isaiah with the same lines in the King James version.

The King James Version of Isaiah, parts of chapter 10:

17 And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame: and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day;
18 And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body: and they shall be as when a standard-bearer fainteth.
19 And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them.


17 And the light of Israel shall become a fire,
And his Holy One a flame;
And he shall burn, and consume his thorn
And his brier in one day.
18 Even the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field,
From the soul even to the flesh, shall he consume;
And it shall be, as when one fleeth out of the fire.
19 And the remainder of the trees of his forest shall be a
small number,
So that a child may write them down.

And shortly after, these very famous lines occur. The King James version reads Isaiah 11: 6-8 thusly:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp,...

Chapter 11: 6-8  Lowth phrases this way:

6 Then shall the wolf take up his abode with the lamb; And the leopard shall lie down with the kid;

And the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling shall come together;
And a little child shall lead them.
7 And the heifer and the she-bear shall feed together;
Together shall their young ones lie down;
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 And the suckling shall play upon the hole of the aspic;

(This lion eating straw is refers to the practise, when farmers had their crop threshed by the oxen, of not muzzling the oxen, Apparently it mentions in Leviticus not to prevent those beasts from eating some of what they were threshing.)

His ODNB article provides biographical background on Robert Lowth.

.... He was the second son of William Lowth (1661-1732), prebendary of Winchester, and his wife, Margaret (fl. 1675-1735), ... He attended Winchester College, as a scholar, from November 1721 until September 1729. He matriculated as a commoner at St John's College, Oxford, on 26 March 1729 but was admitted as a scholar at New College in January 1730. He graduated BA in October 1733 and MA in June 1737, and became a fellow of New College.
In June 1741 Lowth was elected professor of poetry at Oxford, ... Re-elected in 1746, he served for a total of ten years, in the course of which he delivered the thirty-four Praelectiones de sacra poesi Hebraeorum that were to make his name. Published in 1753, together with a short confutation of Bishop Francis Hare's system of metre, Lowth's lectures established a new method for reading and understanding those passages of the Hebrew Bible, such as the Psalms and many of the writings of the prophets, that were traditionally considered as verse, as well as a means to expand and define the canon of biblical poetry. Building on the work of contemporary Oxford scholars, notably Thomas Hunt, Lowth urged the importance of setting biblical poetry in the context of oriental rather than classical style and the impossibility of ever determining the ancient vocalization of the Hebrew Bible with sufficient accuracy to identify its true metrical structure. In place of metre Lowth argued that the structure of Hebrew verse could be identified by its often parabolic or figurative mode of expression, and in particular by the parallelisms, or repetitions of similar words or phrases, sometimes in a regular order, sometimes not, that gave rhythm to Hebrew poetry and song, and served almost as an alternative to metre. Using these critical tools Lowth also tried to identify a sublime, and divinely inspired, quality in Hebrew verse....

In December 1741, shortly after his election as professor of poetry, Lowth was ordained deacon by Bishop Thomas Secker; he became a priest in December 1742. In July 1744 Bishop Benjamin Hoadly collated him to the rectory of Ovington, Hampshire, and in August 1750 promoted him archdeacon of Winchester, adding the rectory of East Woodhay to his preferments in June 1753. The University of Oxford created him DD by diploma on 18 July 1754. In March 1748 Lowth travelled with the embassy of Henry Bilson-Legge to Berlin, where he took the opportunity to instruct Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, about the principal English poets. He returned in February 1749 but was soon travelling again with lords George and Frederick Cavendish, sons of William Cavendish, third duke of Devonshire. They journeyed together through France and Italy, visiting Herculaneum in the spring of 1750. Lowth thus established firm connections with prominent whig noblemen and with influential figures in the ministry. He also cemented his own place in the life of his native county. On 26 December 1752 he married Mary (d. 1803), daughter and heir of Laurence Jackson of Christchurch, Hampshire, in the process securing substantial property and a considerable fortune. Despite the careful financial arrangements that preceded it this seems also to have been a loving marriage, and Lowth evidently took pleasure in the family that resulted. Two sons and five daughters were born between December 1753 and June 1765, but Lowth's later life was increasingly tinged by sadness as a result of the premature deaths of some of his children, of whom only Martha (1760-1812) and Robert (1762-1822), later vicar of Halstead, in Essex, and prebendary of St Paul's, survived their father.

In spite of his personal success Lowth complained in March 1755 that 'my affairs seem to be at a dead stand' ..... As a result he felt bound to accept appointment as chaplain to William Cavendish, then marquess of Hartington, who was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland in 1755. He extracted a promise that Hartington would intercede with Thomas Pelham-Holles, duke of Newcastle, then prime minister, to exchange any Irish preferment that Lowth might obtain for a suitable position at home. Lowth sailed for Dublin in May 1755, by which time Hartington was pursuing another scheme that would allow Lowth to change places with someone who would have liked an Irish bishopric ...[and] had the wherewithal to pay well for it' ... Lowth was granted the freedom of Limerick in June 1755 and soon afterwards Hartington's plans began to bear fruit. Protracted negotiations involving Joseph Butler, bishop of Durham, and Benjamin Hoadly, bishop of Winchester, as well as the duke of Newcastle eventually resulted in the appointment of James Leslie as bishop of Limerick, an office that Lowth had declined, and the transfer to Lowth of a prebendal stall at Durham. In place of Leslie's other preferments Lowth was granted the valuable living of Sedgefield. He took up his new positions and moved to co. Durham in October 1755, purchasing a post-chaise to facilitate communication with his family in Hampshire. Through Hartington, who had become duke of Devonshire, he was appointed a royal chaplain on 18 August 1757. Lowth was now free to pursue literary and theological controversy, and although further preferment took some time he was also set on a significant career within the Church of England.
[O]n 12 April 1777 he was nominated bishop of London. He was made dean of the Chapel Royal, was sworn of the privy council, and from 1786 was a member of the committee for trade and plantations. He was also a governor of the Charterhouse and a trustee of the British Museum. On the death of Frederick Cornwallis, archbishop of Canterbury, in 1783, he declined the offer of the primacy.

Although Lowth had been astute in the pursuit of worldly success, and of the patronage necessary to achieve it, he was nevertheless a dedicated and effective churchman and administrator. He preached regularly, and although his conclusions were often predictable the subjects that he tackled were sometimes controversial ones, such as the importance of instructing African slaves in Christian religion or the need to overcome the weakening of the constitution by 'a general national depravity' ...

More significant than Lowth's preaching, however, was his concern for the godly administration of the church. He was an efficient archdeacon, and as bishop of London conducted a campaign in the early 1780s against the practice of some lay patrons in forcing clergymen to accept bonds of resignation before instituting them to their livings. After legal battles lasting two and a half years the House of Lords finally ruled in Lowth's favour, upholding the principle that the beneficed clergy should be able to act as freeholders, without obligation to their patrons...

His reputation for scholarship and good sense ensured that individuals as different from one another as John Wesley and Alexander Geddes could enjoy his company and regard him as sympathetic and encouraging to some of their ideas.....

In 1762 Lowth published
A Short Introduction to English Grammar, in which he extolled the simplicity of the form and construction of the English language while remarking that it could still not rival the most ancient of languages, Hebrew...

This book on English grammar was very popular at the time, and still has some charming illuminations. This line for example, where Lowth makes the point that famous men have used a noun as an adjective (as in sea water). Lowth quotes John Locke as an example of this practise:

"Many men reason exceeding clear and rightly, who know not how to make a syllogism."

Some readers of this blog may find the study of ideas like Lowth's pointless. A broader perspective sees a kind of intellectual busyness an interesting thing to study in itself. The difference between yesterday and today may be like a stylistic shift. Today sophisticated intellectuals consider the possibilities of multiple universes each with different physical laws. That pursuit may turn out to be simply a way to avoid the implications of modern scientific research. A theory serves the same purpose now as god did in centuries past: and that is allowing an explanation (god or the multiverse) to cover the nakedness of not having a plausible explanation for something.

 My point is merely we may have more in common with previous eras than we suppose.

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